Tomato Canning Failure

A couple days ago, I came home from work and immediately started prepping to can some diced tomatoes. I had a counter full of tomatoes – especially cherry and pear tomatoes – so I figured diced tomatoes was the way to go. I postponed eating so I could get right to peeling and dicing and jarring up my tomatoes. But despite the hours of work, something went wrong.

I have never canned diced tomatoes before, just crushed tomatoes with juice. So, I went to the website for the National Center for Home Preservation for a scientifically safe recipe for canned tomatoes. I found the one for Whole or Halved Tomatoes without liquid, figuring that it was the closest to what I wanted to do. (Pear and cherry tomatoes are so small, I only had to cut them in half to have diced tomatoes.) I did add several Amish paste tomatoes and a couple of Rutgers tomatoes to the mix (diced up, of course), in order to have enough to fill the jars.

Well, I sterilized my pint jars, dipped the tomatoes in boiling water then ice water to peel them, took out the cores and any spots or blemishes, and cut them up. I added citric acid, salt, and a bit of sugar to each jar, then packed them with the tomatoes. I pushed the tomatoes down to fit as much in as possible and left the required half-inch head space. I wiped the rims, put on the lids and bands, and put them into the canning pot to process for the full 85 minutes. (That’s 85 minutes AFTER the water came to a boil.)

I followed the directions exactly. The jars came out of the water bath, and the pings began. Seals were being formed. Look how pretty they looked.

Canned diced tomatoes

Canned diced tomatoes

I set the jars on the counter to cool and went to bed.

The next morning, I checked the seals. Every jar had a good seal. I was happy….until I picked up one of the jars and examined it.

I’ve had air bubbles in my canned goods before; normally, that’s not a big deal. But this was different. These bubbles looked soapy at the top of the jar. I knew it wasn’t soap, so I looked more closely and saw tiny bubbles fizzing their way to the top of the jar – like what you’d see in a carbonated beverage.

Canned diced tomatoes with gassy bubbles

Gassy bubbles in canned tomatoes

I knew that couldn’t be good. It seemed I had some sort of fermentation going on inside the jars. After researching the issue online, I found out that it is a sign of some sort of contamination by bacteria.

What is strange is that it happened right away – as soon as the canning was finished. So, there must have been something wrong with my tomatoes. But what could survive 85 minutes of hard boiling?? I have no idea what went wrong. The only thing I can think of is that I used tomatoes that had been on my counter, finishing to ripen. I thought tomatoes were different in that I could let them ripen more before canning. Wrong. You’re supposed to treat them like everything else – process them within 24 hours of harvesting, and the sooner, the better.

So, was there something on some of my tomatoes that developed while they sat in my sunny window? Or did I harvest some infected tomatoes – from disease or bugs? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m not taking any chances. I live by the adage: when in doubt, throw it out. So, into the garbage they’re going, unopened jars and all. (Never open jars suspected of being contaminated; put them into a strong garbage bag and dispose of them in the trash.)

Has this ever happened to you when you canned tomatoes? Do you know what causes this? I’m open to any advice from you canning mavens out there!

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2 comments on “Tomato Canning Failure

  1. Did you ever get any more info? The same thing happened to me this year. Everything seemed good, but when I went to open I noticed that same soapy or carbonation bubbling up towards the top of the jars. Like you, I have been throwing them out, but it’s painful after all that work!!!

    • Everything I’ve read stated that air bubbles are fine – unless they are moving and fizzy. That’s caused by fermentation or contamination. So, we’re doing the right thing by throwing it out. It is painful throwing away all the hard work, but the alternative would be much more painful – or possibly even deadly.

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